Some things in Costa Rica are easy. Easy like where and what time am I going to surf today. Other things not so much. Every ninety days foreigners that enter Costa Rica on a tourist visa but live here need to do what we call a “border run” to get their passports re-stamped with another tourist visa. Closest borders runs are by land to Nicaragua or Panama, and further ones are flights back “home”. Closest does not always mean the easiest and fastest though. So why not just apply for Costa Rican residency to avoid the border run situation? Again, the most logical solution is not always the best solution here in Costa Rica. (Applying for residency = time + mucho dinero + lawyers + trips to San Jose + more dinero + time time time + headaches)
Last week my ninety days was fast approaching so plans for my border run started to ruminate. The “quickest” option would be to drive up to the border, get my passport stamped in Costa Rica and Nicaragua, then drive back. Sounds simple. Travel time is around four hours round trip in a car, but the bottleneck is the border. If things run efficiently, a border crossing could take an easy hour (if officials do not make you stay the three hours in Nicaragua that technically is required before you re-enter Costa Rica). My friend recently did a border run and the whole process took eight hours, door to door. I figured if I was going to spend that much time and money to make a trip to the border, I might as well actually go explore Nicaragua and make a weekend trip out of it.
So off I went last Friday on my journey to Nica. What started off as an enjoyable trip with an nice taxi ride compliments of Don Jose, German bakery sweets, and our exit tax already pre-paid turned into chaos as soon as we reached the border. The line to leave Costa Rica wrapped around the building and was moving at a snails pace. My friend and I asked officials if there was a separate line for those that had already paid the exit tax. Makes logical sense, right? Sorry, one line. Again, the most logical solution is not always the best solution here in Costa Rica. So we stood in line and inched our way forward. Oh, it also started raining. Side note: we are in the middle of dry season here in Costa Rica.
After about an hour, the line started moving at a reasonable pace. Why? The officials decided on a more logical solution to turn off the machine that processes the exit tax and process everyone without making them pay the tax. At least this was logical. One machine to accept payment for the hundreds of people in line that just so happens to be located inside the office where you get your passport stamped is not so logical.
OK. So two hours in Costa Rica to get stamped. But the bottleneck that was in Costa Rica quickly moved over to the Nicaragua side. And if the Costa Rican side was illogical, the Nicaraguan side is just completely inefficient. After two hours of standing in line again, my friend and I were next in line to get our passports stamped. Rain in Costa Rica, earthquake in Nicaragua. Really?! Luckily we just felt a sway and the Nicaraguan officials decided it was ok to go back to work. They do like to take their time over there, taking five minutes per person just to process a passport!
Total time to exit Costa Rica and enter Nicaragua, a mere 100 yard crossing, was five hours.
Enough with the horror travel story. Thankfully the rest of my trip was a great and memorable experience. After finally entering Nicaragua, my friend and I sardined ourselves into a bus and then (mom, don’t read this part) hitchhiked into our first stop, San Juan del Sur.
After a refreshing beer and tacos, our land cruiser chariot whisked us away to our beach front accommodations, just in time for sunset and the full moon to rise.
Thankfully, we spent the next day recovering and surfing the beautiful waves right in front of our hostel, Tres Hermanos. The waves literally were breaking 300 yards from the rooms. No wave sound machine needed here, but a good 1mm neoprene spring suit is for the tad bit chilly water! Good thing I forgot to bring my spring suit, but a smiling blonde in a Latin country usually can pull a few strings and borrow a wetsuit jacket.
After a day of rest and relaxation, surfing, beach exploring, siestas, fish tacos, amazing smoothies, and a bonfire, we started our journey back to Costa Rica.
This time we started our day off a little more relaxing with freshly roasted coffee and locally sourced breakfast at Cafe Gata Negra in San Juan del Sur. Our ride to the border was not sardined packed and we did not have to hitchhike. The border crossing was a piece of cake, thirty minutes in total to go through. Some things some of the time in Costa Rica are easy.